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King Solomon-era fortifications revealed in Israel excavation

JERUSALEM (BP)-—More than 30 years have passed since a major expedition has attempted to reveal the history of Tel Gezer, the ancient city of King Solomon fame located between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. This summer the biblical site has been re-excavated by a joint expedition of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The expedition is led by co-directors Steven M. Ortiz of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and Sam Wolff of the Israel Antiquities Authority. The project encompasses several consortium members: Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Marian Eakins Archaeological Museum, Lycoming College, Lancaster Bible College and Grace Seminary. More than 60 students and staff members participated in the inaugural season this summer from June 4 through July 7. In addition, the excavations drew support from local residents of Kibbutz Gezer and Karmi Yosef.

Some secular archaeologists doubt the reality of many people and places named in the Bible, but the current work at the Tel Gezer location may prove useful in verifying various biblical accounts.

This year’s excavations have revealed more than 40 meters of a massive fortification system associated with the six-chambered gate common in the building projects of King Solomon. Solomon’s extensive building projects are recorded in the biblical account of his activities throughout his kingdom and at his capital city of Jerusalem (1 Kings 9:15-17).

The Tel Gezer fortification systems were constructed in the typical fortress wall system consisting of two parallel walls with dividing walls interspersed about every five meters. Scholars are not sure of the function of this system. The rooms do not have doorways and therefore served as some type of basement storage system entered from above or were filled with soil and rubble as a less labor-intensive construction.

In addition to this large fortification system, two major destructions tentatively dated to the Egyptian pharaohs of Merneptah and Siamun were exposed. The famous Merneptah Stela (end of the 13th century B.C.), where the name Israel is first mentioned in ancient historical records outside the Bible, mentions a major campaign in ancient Palestine that included the destruction of Gezer. Siamun (mid-10th century B.C.) is identified by many scholars as the pharaoh who conquered Gezer and gave it as a dowry when his daughter married Solomon (1 Kings 9:15).

While the ancient site of Tel Gezer was extensively excavated by R.A.S. Macalister in the early 1900s and by Hebrew Union College in the 1960s and ’70s, many questions still remain concerning the nature of the city during the period of the United Monarchy of the Ancient Israelite Kingdom. The goals of the renewed excavations are to investigate the major fortification systems on the south edge of the site as well as excavate several cultural horizons in order to better understand the growth and development of the Iron Age city.

While parts of the large fortification system have been exposed by previous excavations, several new discoveries were obtained this season. The first was a major rebuilding of the part of the city near the fortification. Some time in the eighth century B.C. a large pillared building and a second unit consisting of several storage rooms were constructed directly abutting the 10th-century B.C. fortification. The pillared building was six and a half meters by four meters and the second unit of rooms covered an area seven meters in length.

The renewed excavations coincide with the celebration of the July 10 opening of the site by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority as a national park. While most of the preparation was carried out by the Israeli authority, it is part of the excavation project’s future goals to assist in the conservation of the site. Thus, participants of the Tel Gezer excavation assisted by clearing the years of overgrown brush that covered the Solomonic and Canaanite Gates.

The Tel Gezer project is a long-term initiative to investigate the growth and development of the ancient city of Gezer. In addition, it is a field school to train the next generation of students. Students participate in an intensive program of archaeological fieldwork with evening lectures and a study program where they travel throughout the various regions of Israel. The project is open to all students and adult volunteers. Information can be obtained from the project website at www.gezerproject.org.

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